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vancouver games

And Then There Were Four

The game between Canada and Russia was supposed to be the best of this men's hockey tournament, and maybe even the premier event of the whole Winter Games. And it totally was, provided you're not a fan of things like "defense," "goal-tending," and "rational coaching decisions." Russia displayed none of these last night in an embarrassing 7–3 loss, and by the end of the night, the only ones more disappointed than the Russian players were the hockey fans who were expecting an instant classic.

Whatever funk Canada found themselves in during the preliminary round appears to have passed: They've netted fifteen goals in two games now, and by the time Rick Nash scored on that pretty rush to make it 3–0 — shades of the Semin-to-Malkin goal that followed Alex Ovechkin's monster hit on Jaromir Jagr Sunday, but started by a less violent turnover — all was forgiven by the raucous Canadian crowd. Humiliating your fiercest international rival and sending them home without a medal sways public opinion pretty fast.

Ovechkin — the centerpiece of the potent Russian offensive attack — was completely invisible. (The sub-matchup of Ovechkin versus Sidney Crosby didn't live up to expectations, either; Crosby was held without a point himself.) And why Russian coach Vyacheslav Bykov didn't pull an ineffective Evgeni Nabokov after Brenden Morrow scored Canada's fourth goal of the first period — or after that period ended, or after Corey Perry scored to make it 5–1 early in the second — is anybody's guess. Maybe it wouldn't have mattered, but the Russians will have until Sochi to wonder if it would have.

Canada looked unstoppable, and after drawing an allegedly tough opponent in Russia in the quarterfinals (on the more difficult side of the bracket, no less), they'll avoid defending champion Sweden, who lost early this morning to Slovakia. For a while, it looked like Sweden had dodged a bullet in this one: After falling behind 2–0 in the second period, they scored two goals 37 seconds apart to restore Olympic order. But a Pavol Demitra goal late in the second period and a Tomas Kopecky score in the third would put the game out of reach, and Sweden would fall, 4–3. Henrik Lundqvist can now rest until Tuesday. Marian Gaborik (who scored a goal last night) will play two more games.

Meanwhile, the United States (who held off Switzerland earlier in the day) will play Finland on NBC tomorrow — and will do so live in every time zone. (What a novel idea!) On a day that saw a little of everything — a nail-biting American win, a Canadian blowout, and a late-night Slovakian upset — the Finns provided the most bizarre ending. With Finland on a third-period power play in a scoreless game, Czech defenseman Pavel Kubina's helmet came off and ended up behind his own net. In international play, it's illegal to play without a helmet, so Kubina had to abandon his position in front of the net to retrieve it in order to avoid a penalty that would have put his team down two men. But while he did so, an uncovered Niklas Hagman tipped Janne Niskala's point shot past an otherwise perfect Tomas Vokoun and into the net. Miikka Kiprusoff, on the other hand, was perfect all night — he stopped all 31 shots he faced — and Valtteri Filppula would add an empty netter to advance the Finns to the semifinals.

The United States and Canada are each a winnable game away from a gold-medal showdown on Sunday. Do you believe in rematches?

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Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images